Wednesday, 28 March 2012

How to Order Food (or Just End up with Something that's not Crap)

Ordering food is often an art, because if you end up with something you didn’t quite envisage, you’ll be staring longingly at your mate’s plate and you’ll probably be complaining about it until pudding (not that I do that. Ahem) – not fun for ANYONE. So here are some tips for getting what you really want.*
  1. LOOK around. And smell. You see a dish you like the look of being carried around, you ask what it is or work out what it is on the menu (if you’re feeling clever). But try not to appear stalker-y. It’s probably not ok if you lean so far into the next table that they can tell what you had for breakfast.
  2. Discern what kind of place it is. If it’s a less-than-average place, the impressive-sounding dishes probably only sound impressive so you’re probably just better sticking with what you (and they) know.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask the wait staff questions. That’s what they’re there for. If something on the menu is confusing, you can avoid awkwardness and embarrassment later by asking if that fish is pan-fried or poached.
  4. Read the fine-print. It’s easy to end up with too much or too little food if the dish is complete or if you have to make up the dish yourself with various side orders (THAT’S why it was so cheap!).
  5. Don’t be THAT foodie and insist everyone orders something different. If someone else is having what you’re having, it’s ok to have the same thing. Your mates don’t give a crap about your food blog agenda and if you want to really enjoy it for the sake of enjoying things, go for what you want.
  6. Look at the whole dish, not just the main element of meat or fish. Accompaniments can make or break a dish. 
  7. If the vegetarian dish looks good, go for it. Don’t feel obliged to get a meat dish because you feel like you’re getting more for your money because they can be just as good. Usually cheaper, too.
  8. An obvious one, but read reviews of what’s done well at the restaurant before you go, and ask wait staff what is most popular there.
  9. Don’t be boring. If you can have it at home easily, don’t bother (unless it's a speciality or somewhere so amazing that tripe looks appealing). Go for something you’ve never had before (but order wisely if the restaurant’s quality doesn’t look great).
  10. Try not to get a vision in your head of what you’re expecting or you may be sorely disappointed. I went to one of my favourite places for home-y cooking and had ‘penne, salmon and avocado’, imagining a cold salad-type thing with an oily dressing but they served it all hot, INCLUDING the avocado, slathered in some kind of tomato-y sauce. It was grim.

Of course, if you go to a chain affair like Wahaca or Wagamama and they assume that you have difficulty even ordering or reading their menu (not to say that I don’t love Wahaca. I really do. I just fine their ‘Have you been here before?’ spiel more than a little patronising).
*Disclaimer: Some people are just crap at ordering. I accept no responsibility for this.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

10 Funny Things that Customers do

Following my many blogs about service and what I hate about customers, these are some things that customers do that make my job worthwhile, or at least make me laugh a lot (with disbelief sometimes).

These are my top 10:
  1. That little moment when you’re paying can, if you don’t talk right away, be filled with a deadly, awkward silence. In some situations, I imagine that the man paying is desperately hoping that his card won’t get rejected. Once, I had a couple in and the man’s card got rejected so the girl had to pay. It was their first date, needless to say it just got progressively more awkward.
  2. Make a silly joke – I really appreciate people making jokes, it lightens up my day. But most of them are so terrible I pretend to find them funny. Or just laugh at how bad they are.
  3. Wandering into a fully booked restaurant and plonking themselves in a prime seat. ‘But it’s half-empty’! – it won’t be in twenty minutes you goon, they’re all booked! Having said that, it is sometimes difficult to discern what you should do in a restaurant when wandering in. if so, it’s probably better to wait a minute.
  4. Credit card machines – the amount of people who get confused by them is brilliant. Mostly you just have to follow instructions but it confuses some people no end – mostly charming old men.
  5. I used to see this one a lot: A visually-impaired couple goes to a restaurant with one pair of reading glasses and so one has to borrow the other’s glasses or one of them reading the entire menu out. That’s love, right?
  6. Endless substitutions: “hi, you know the plaice dish? Well, could I get a tuna steak with salad and dressing on the side…? Oh, and I don’t like the dressing you do. Can you make me another one?” taking the term ‘a la carte’ to the next extreme. And fyi, tuna wasn’t even on the menu. They still insisted I checked though.
  7. People with kids. Some of them will try and colour in literally everything. Menus, napkins the table, anything! The worst bit is when they don’t know what they want and the mum gets angry at them.
  8. Tell me how to do my job. I was struggling (whilst the table watched my every move) with an obstinate wine bottle once and the table were shouting ‘just push the cork down!” – er, I don’t think that’s how you remove a cork. When that, surprisingly, didn’t happen, they tried to take the bottle off me and do it themselves! Inexperienced at opening wine as I was then, I gratefully accepted my managers help and ran off to safety.
  9. I try to keep an eye on all tables so if I catch someone’s eye whilst a whole table is watching me intently, it comes as a surprise when they look affronted that I’ve come over. Sometimes I think they’re just bored of their dining companion.
  10. Asking for weird condiments. I think I’ve heard it all but people always come out with really weird food combinations, like asking for ketchup with a roast (common enough in some places but I always find it BIZZARE), or mint sauce with chicken. If any waiters or waitresses have any stories, comment or tweet @melissafoodie as I never get tired of them!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Top 10 Jokes Customers Make in Restaurants

Customers making jokes is great for waiters and waitresses because it means they are enjoying themselves, hopefully. There’s usually only one criteria for them: they have to be really bad. You can find my blog about being a bad customer here.

Sometimes customers come into the restaurant and say something so inappropriate that I don’t know whether to laugh, blush or run away, such as these gems:

1. [Enquiring about the provenance of sole on the menu] "Hmm… tell me - are these our soles?"

2. In a chinese restaurant: "I'll have the cream of sum yun gai" (from the movie Wayne's World)

3. "Would you like to try the pork in wine, Sir?" "No thank you, my wife prefers pork in cider" (Classic Fast Show)

Really, who doesn’t love a good fish/meat pun?

4. In fish restaurants: "I come here occasionally, just for the 'alibut"

5. "I like venison, but I find it a little deer"

6. "This place is famous for poultry, but I've heard the duck's not all it's quacked up to be"

7. “Don't have the pheasant, it's fowl"

Then there are those who make jokes that have dad written all over them and you have to laugh because they are just so bad. You know they’re bad, but you smile, despite yourself.

8. "Would you like to see the specials sir?" "No thanks, I never really liked Ska"

9. "Is everything ok with your meal sir?" "Well yes... but the salad's a bit cold"

10. When the waiter is having difficulty splitting the bill on the spot: "You shouldn't have problems with that, you know your  tables!"

Thursday, 15 March 2012

10 Things You Actually Learnt From Masterchef

I read something about Masterchef and I didn't like it so I wrote this.

1. They manage to chop in time to the music at least once an episode. Amazing! How do they chop in such fantastic rhythm?

2. Gregg Wallace is physically unable to put a bit of a spoon in his mouth. It has to be the WHOLE thing.

3. Any contestant hugs MUST be uncomfortable.

4. It is always a horrendous surprise to viewers if they decide to put 4 people through to the final, despite the fact that there is an extra episode scheduled. Quelle surprise!

5. If they make a hash of a dish element, they will gain brownie points by smugly admitting that they ‘left that part out because it was burnt’. Well done you for getting something wrong and admitting you got something wrong.

6. If you make a chocolate dessert, you are Gregg’s. Even if it’s crap.

7. Random quirks will become a ‘hilarious’ running joke. Like liberal use of mangoes (it could be worse, though).

8. Gregg’s mug will convulse into ecstatic sex faces when eating… er… anything.

9. You will grow to resent the phrase ‘OH, MAYTE’ and will die a tiny bit inside when Gregg uses the phrase (which is a lot).

10. None of them are able to carry three plates. Except one, last season, I think. I can just imagine them awkwardly placing the plates in front of two judges and then apologetically dashing out to get the last one.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Taking Photographs of Food in Restaurants: Is it OK?

With the massive influx of people blogging about food and reviewing restaurants, it’s easy to see why people taking pictures of their food is so popular now. That and the fact that these days, people have to share simply everything, from what they saw in their toilet to exactly how many pints they had after work.
The question is, is there point of taking pictures of your food? Do we need the constant photos of your sub-standard pizza to really get to know you? And finally, since when was it ok to take your phone or your camera out in a restaurant?

My morning latte favours the 'MySpace' angle to make it seem
deep and meaningful
I understand that if you are looking at a truly beautiful dish, it is understandable to want to get a permanent memory of that food before you wolf it down or daintily push it across your plate (if you are so inclined). However, do we really need to take endless photos of our lattes and beans on toast with our instagrams and DLSRs, merely to suggest that we are ‘artists’ or soo random/cultured/serious foodies? Ooh, I’m a teenager in the 1980s with my Instamatic camera and coffee art, writing poetry as I eat my eggs Florentine. I’m not that serious about photography but now I’ve got an iPhone I’m pretty much contractually obliged to use the Instagram filter. It makes my mundane, unoriginal photo of the most common breakfast beverage of choice look cool, edgy and retro with zero effort. AND THE EDGES ARE A BIT BLURRED!!1! Plus I can now put ‘photographer’ in my Twitter bio. And post EVERYTHING I eat. Even that kebab I had at 3am that definitely bears more than a passing resemblance to a turd.

I take pictures of a course at a restaurant if it’s pretty or if I’m thinking about blogging about it, but is it really ok to take pictures of every course? I get quite embarrassed when taking pictures of my food. Even if everyone else is doing it, I feel like a bit of a pleb. It draws attention to me, it disrupts other diners and when they look down at my plate, they’ll probably wonder why I’m taking a picture of a pile of some ribs. Flash photography is completely unacceptable. You can turn the sound off on most cameras too, but not many people do that.*

On the other hand, from a non-dining perspective, it’s very helpful when reading a food blog or review that has pictures of dishes so you can know exactly what to expect from a meal at that restaurant. Otherwise, as frequently happens from misleading menu descriptions, you could end up with something completely different to what you expected (which isn’t always a bad thing, but sometimes it is). It adds depth to a food blog and also your own personal take. The pictures don’t have to be perfect, but it’s far more interesting than lifting the pictures off the website, surely? If I wanted to see that, I could just go to the company website.

So I suppose it’s a double-edged sword – annoying at the time, but actually quite useful and a good way to remember your meal (as well as, obviously, proving you’ve been there and showing off what you had). It's ok to do it sometimes, but constantly and with sub-standard food is NOT ok with me.

*But not, as I found out this morning, in South Korea and Japan. It is illegal to not have a noise on your camera/phone there because apparently there’s a lot of upskirting there. Fun fact for this morning.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Good Value Michelin Starred Lunches in London

Arbutus are in the news for having illegal immigrants working in the kitchen and as I was writing this anyway, it’s just gone up up a bit more quickly.

I’m on the quest to find the best value Michelin starred lunches in London because I think it’s not that widely known that you can get a great Michelin starred experience without having to take out a small mortgage.
Prior to me going to lunch, I did a little investigating on the websites and emailed around. To be honest, nearly half of the people that I emailed asking for more information did not reply to my email. If they're doing badly, I'm not surprised. Others were a bit helpful and linked me to their lunch menu. But that doesn't constitute more information.

People want to know about free bread and amuse bouches. They are small extras which can make a big impact on a meal, especially if they are included on the set menu. Though at this level, you would not expect to pay for bread.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my research into good value Michelin starred lunches in London. Bread is a given, but these are the added extras that you will get if you go to lunch. The price doesn't include wine.

Kitchen W8 – £19.50. No extras but you do get petits fours with your coffee (though that’s standard at this level too). Great price and good service and good food.

Arbutus - £19.95. Not the best-looking menu in the world and there is marginally less choice on the menu but for that money, it’s got to be worth a shot. They are in the news because they had illegal immigrants working for them who got arrested. That’s possibly how they got the menu to be so cheap (one of the cheapest in London).

Wild Honey - £21.95. They weren’t really that obliging but told me that there was free bread. Before redirecting me to the menu.

Gauthier Soho – £25. Amuse bouche, bread, filtered sparkling/still water. One of my favourites, and around the middle price mark for good value lunches.

Club Gascon - £25. You can also get 2 courses and a tea or coffee but for maximum value, get 3 courses.

Pollen St. Social – £25.50. My friend emailed them for information when she was considering going there for dinner and didn’t hear back, which she wasn’t very impressed with.

Pied a Terre – £33.50. Amuse Bouche. On their website, they claim that they have the best value Michelin starred lunch menu in London.

Hibiscus – £34.95. Canap├ęs, amuse bouche, bread. This has two stars. It’s the only one with two stars.

Galvin at Windows - £29. Glass of champagne and coffee with petits fours. Views are free! Thanks @BonsVoeux1 for that and the next one.

Chez Bruce - £21.50. Available Mon-Fri when booked with TopTable.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Burger Gripes

Burgers. They are so now. They are EVERYWHERE. To be honest, I’m getting a bit sick of hearing about them. I don’t want burgers all the time. Which is what everyone else does. But I do like the odd burger, and when I do, I expect it to be good. Which isn’t that easy as there are so many.

MEATliquor is the place to get a burger, Byron is also huge right now and you’d be pushed to find a gastro-pub that doesn’t have a “classic” burger on its menu (Classic, as opposed to what?). But they’re not all good.

My friend's burger attempt
There are at least 5 different components to a good burger:

Bun: I don’t want cheap, I don’t want a plastic-y frozen one from Iceland. And I don’t want one that will detract from the crowning glory. All I really want from a bun is something to keep the burger and its various accompaniments in. Carb and stodge quota are what chips are for. A brioche-type one is good, but they’re so bloody trendy now.

Salad: There has to be good salad. A watery beef tomato that’ll make everything soggy and drippy is not ideal, and an abundance of frisse lettuce can be just as bad as a wilted leaf of iceberg. If the ratio is wrong, it’ll just taste wrong and you’ve got to fiddle around and take bits out and replace bits.

Condiments: Please don’t try and make your own ketchup. It never works and it tastes like shit. And it’s just really pretentious. All you need isn’t love. It’s Heinz. And mayonnaise. And maybe a bit of mustard. But crap sauces can totally spoil it so less is probably more.

Cheese: cheese is there to be another texture and to help bind the whole thing together, not to overpower the taste of the actual burger. Like cheddar or stilton. What’s the point if you can’t taste the main event? Something like Swiss cheese is great because it’s a nice, smooth texture.

Meat: The burger itself is obviously the most important bit. It falls apart when you bite into it, it’s too dry or just doesn’t taste good. I want them Everyone knows if they have a crap burger.

Chips: No chunky chips! Always salty, fatty, skinny chips, otherwise it just doesn’t work. Don’t ask me why.

Size: Sometimes, it’s just too damn tall to eat whole. I mean, I don’t expect to eat it elegantly but give me a chance! I don’t want to deconstruct it and defeat the whole point of this delicious combination.

Sliders: I just don’t really get them. It’s another more exciting, New York-ese name for a small burger.

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